“You cannot go to bed angry or wake up someone while you are angry, as you can kill them. You need to learn to work with your anger better.”
I looked ahead at the white cement wall, trying to process what my godfather had just told me. It was Fall of 2020. I came to the mat to consult Ifa as I was preparing to move back to Michigan and wanted to gain more insight into my career prospects. Yet, here I was being told about my anger. Honestly, my first reaction was…anger. A quick flash of heat that I felt in my face and hands, my normal “tells” that let me know anger was a comin.
Preparing my comeback to him, I was ready to intellectualize and refute what was being said to me. ‘I’m not THAT angry’, I thought. I had worked hard over the years to control my temper, ensuring it did not show — especially in the workplace. And here I was being told that I was still…angry?!
As I looked at him to respond I could feel the anger start to subside, literally, through my fingers. Then an intense sadness washed over me like a tidal wave. Water began to form in the corners of my eyes and a more subdued anger came back. A reaction to me not wanting to cry in front of a man who already knew way too much about me, but also not enough/not yet for me to show this vulnerability.
“Yes” was all I could muster to say in response. Then we moved on.
When I think of anger I think of fire. Red with yellow and blue. Flames that shoot up. Hot. The heat that comes off of the flame, warming up bodies and lighting up spaces. Fire can help and it can harm, come too close and it will burn (or consume) you. Yet, once it cools it can cleanse and clear a space — making it ready to grow something new.
For a long time I understood anger to be the main source of my own inner fire. It was what ignited by passions and became the spark that let me know I was alive and felt deeply about something. I used my anger to gauge where I put my energies at, and for a long time I felt like it served me well. Yet, I did not learn how to really express my anger in a healthy or reflective way. When it did come out it was loud, harsh, and biting. Even if the work itself was “good”, my inability to channel that energy would have consequences.
I learned to disciple how I showed emotions over the years due to negative reactions from others over my sometimes wild expressions of my emotions. Like honestly, sometimes I couldn’t tell if I was angry or just really really excited as I externally expressed both emotions the same. This led me to second guess myself as I moved up in the professional world of academia where emotions are judged the more we are disciplined by our respective disciplines to perform.
What this really meant was that my anger had nowhere to go, no productive outlet, so it sat in my body for too long. Grew too hot. And my body paid the price with consistent and consecutive stomach flares that left me in the bathroom and/or laid out in bed for days. In trying to control my anger for the comfort of others, to be more palatable for them, I was eating away at my own foundations.
“You need to learn to work with your anger better.” That sentence from my godfather kept coming back to me these past few months. By all accounts my anger should have subsided. I was no longer in the role(s) that had caused me such turmoil. I was getting deeper into my religious and spiritual practices. I was shedding a lot of the excess weight that had clung to my body as I let go of clinging grief. And I had moved to be closer to family, which has turned out to be one of the best decisions my husband and I could have made for our family.
Yet..I found that underneath the surface I was still REALLY FUCKIN ANGRY. And the more I tried to suppress that anger the more it come up — randomly, intensely, and much more frequently — followed by longer slumps of sadness.
“You need to learn to work with your anger better” became a mantra that would follow these anger flare ups. The sentence would be clear and crisp in my subconscious, trying to have me finally get it.
Then, one night while talking to my husband about the move and everything surrounding it, I mentioned how now I can see now how unbearable I must have been to live with during our time in Rhode Island. It was my way to both self-reflect and atone to Mike.
Mike looked at me and said, “Babe, that’s not fair. Your anger was triggered a lot with the things at work. But thanks, and it wasn’t just you.”
That is when it finally clicked. I understood what my godfather was saying to me — my anger was trying to literally tell me something. I needed to work WITH her. I was seeing anger as some enemy, but what if it was actually a friend? Or a teacher? If I worked WITH my anger, then I wondered what it was trying to say.
I looked at my husband and said, “You know, I need to learn to work with my anger better.”
“Sounds good, babe,” he responded.
Yes, I thought to myself, it does sound good. Now, to do it…
What I am finding as I learn to work with the anger is that being angry is highly misunderstood, especially when one is “starting” a spiritual journey or engaging in more self healing work. Anger is just an emotion like any other. Emotions aren’t “good” or “bad”, they just are. When I judged the emotion before I have it then the emotion reacts both to the moment at hand AND my own judgement of the emotion itself. It is like a double whammy that I was doing to myself! My emotions are communicating to me how I am experiencing a moment and I have to trust that emotion and let it fully flow through me to learn what it was trying to teach.
My godfather was telling me, there was no more room to stuff these emotions down. I was overfull. I needed to let out the anger in a way that did not consume me, but rather cleared a path that I could truly and freely grow from.
So I began to let it out, all the anger that was sitting inside me, without judgment.
I did it over time…
In my morning pages…
Through talks with friends and my husband, and even longer talks with my mother (who I am like even more than I realized)….
And, at my altars, and through my prayers, with my ancestors and guides.
When I let my anger come out fully, in spaces that could hold it, I was able to release very old blocks I did not realize where still there. And with that even longer held grief that I no longer needed to keep.
What did I learn doing this?
1. I was really angry at the times and ways I allowed my voice to be silenced. I was angry that I could not go back and give younger versions of myself a hug, love, and words of encouragement that it was okay to just be her.
2. I was angry that in these academic spaces I had internalized my oppressor so well I had fooled myself into doing their work for them. And for not believing my body more over the years, putting it through extreme workout regimes, restrictive diets that led to overconsumption of food in a yo-yo cycle, and endless days and nights of grinding that left me sleep deprived.
3. I had not let the anger complete its cycle. I had stopped the feeling instead of working through it. So, my anger became attached to, and stuck in, memories — times in the past where I felt those same feelings but could not or did not do anything about them. When the anger came and I suppressed it, I was internally replaying those past scenes in the present. In doing so I was conjuring a past experience in the present, but not RESOLVING either that past conjure or present moment
Now, I am realizing that my anger was/is teaching me where I need to further let go and release. Each lesson allows me to go deeper into the stories I have told myself, pulling them apart like a surgeon would in order to understand all the parts individually and then collectively. This is how I am learning to work WITH my anger — letting her be a guide, a teacher, a mentor to untangle the many past pains, hurts, and decisions that turned into regrets, so that I can LEARN from those experiences. So that I can grow more into my true and complete self. The self that can sit here today and relay back to others these lessons.
As Mr Nancy told us — Angry is good. Anger really does get shit done.
Feel Your Anger Exercise
If you find that you also hold onto, or stuff down, your emotions try this exercise.
You will need paper, something to write with, a timer, a glass of water, and a small tea light candle.
Fill the glass with cool water and place it on the table you will be writing at. Light the tea light candle next to it. Pray over the glass and light that your higher self helps you purge the emotions that are stuck in you onto the page. The water is there to help you flow and the fire there to help ignite the intuition.
Next set your timer for 10 minutes. At the top of the page write in bold letters ANGER (or the emotion you are working with) — GO. Hit the timer and write everything that makes you mad. Write it all, don’t stop and DO NOT JUDGE. When a judgement comes, write it down, say thank you and keep going. When the time is done, put your pen down, breathe and read what you wrote. Reflect on what you are reading — this reflection can be any means of your choice. I tend to write in a journal as a means of reflection for example.
Take that sheet of paper and using the light of the tea candle, light it on fire (carefully please). Then place it into the cup of water. Pray that these feelings are released. Once the light is out of the your candle take the water and dump it in a nearby river or stream or body of water. If none are available, take it the crossroads, dump it, and keep going.
Repeat as needed until you can have your emotions truly flow through you.
It’s about the flow….